How to Read an IUI Research Paper

(Original Text by Bill Griswold, revised by Gail Murphy, Christina Conati, and Charles Rich)

(Modified by Daniel Sonntag, October 2013)

Reading IUI research papers effectively is challenging. These papers are often written in a very condensed style because of page limitations and the intended audience, which is assumed to already know the area well. Moreover, the reasons for writing the paper may be different than the reasons the paper has been assigned, meaning you have to work harder to find the content that you are interested in.

The first thing to understand is that the research papers you will read have been published in different kinds of places. Some papers have been published in the proceedings of a conference, for example at IUI, a SIGART / SIGCHI conference submission.

These papers have been peer-reviewed but are typically strictly limited in length to about 10-12 pages. Other papers have been published in archival journals, such as TiiS. These papers have also been peer-reviewed but there are typically not any length restrictions, so they generally include more detail in every dimension. Some papers are technical reports. These are not peer-reviewed. In areas related to Computer Science, you may find that there is first a technical report version which is then later published in a conference or a journal. If a paper appears both in conference and journal form, the journal version is typically a later, expanded and revised version of the work.

To develop an effective reading style for research papers, it can help to know what you should get out of the paper, and where that information is located in the paper. Typically, the introduction will state not only the motivations behind the work, but also outline the solution. Often this may be all the expert requires from the paper. The body of the paper states the authors' solution to the problem in detail, and should also describe a detailed evaluation of the solution in terms of arugments or an empirical evaluation (case study, experiment, etc.). Finally, the paper will conclude with a recap, including a discussion of the primary contributions. A paper will also discuss related work to some degree. 

The questions you want to have answered by reading a paper are the following:
What are motivations for this work? For a research paper, there is an expectation that a solution to a problem has been found that no one else has published in the literature. The paper should describe why the problem is important and why it does not have a trivial solution; that is, why a new solution may be required. Implicitly there is implication that previous solutions to the problem are inadequate. Occasionally an author will fail to state either point, making your job much more difficult.

What is the proposed solution? This is also called the hypothesis or idea. There should also be an argument about why the solution solves the problem better than previous solutions. There should also be a discussion about how the solution is achieved (designed and implemented) or is at least achievable.

How is the proposed solution evaluated? An idea alone is usually not adequate for publication of a research paper. What argument and/or experiment is made to make a case for the value of the ideas? What benefits or problems are identified? Are they convincing?

How does the proposed solution relate to other proposed solutions? If this is an important problem, other researchers have probably also tried to solve it. How do the alternative approaches compare to this one? Has this work already been done? Don't limit yourself to the related work references cited by the authors.

What are the contributions? The contributions in a paper may be many and varied. Ideas, software, experimental techniques, and area survey are a few key possibilities.
IUI for example states that: "Unlike traditional AI, our focus is not so much to make the computer smart all by itself, but to make the interaction between computers and people smarter. Unlike traditional HCI, we do not require in-depth studies with users to motivate or prove the effectiveness of the research. Evaluations need only be appropriate to the type of contribution claimed."

What are future directions for this research? Not only what future directions do the authors identify, but what ideas did you come up with while reading the paper?
As you read or skim a paper, you should actively attempt to answer the above questions. Presumably, the introduction should provide motivation. The introduction and conclusion may discuss the solutions and evaluation at a high level. Future work is likely in the concluding part of the paper. The details of the solution and the evaluation should be in the body of the paper. You may find it productive to try to answer each question in turn, writing your answer down. In practice, you are not done reading a paper until you can answer all the questions.